Refit in a live environment
Making alterations to an existing building can come with a whole load of challenges. It’s often much more difficult than building from the ground up. The structure can constrain your design, and you will have to overcome any problems with it. That can be a lot tougher if the building has occupants who don’t want to vacate.
We come across this all the time, especially when refitting shops or offices. I asked Iconic’s Director of Project Management, Darren Hewitt, for his top tips to ensure a smooth build in a live environment.
Q: Why would anyone want to work through a building project?
Darren: It’s easy to see why a business would not want to vacate their premises, even when undergoing a significant refurbishment. For a retailer, closing a shop for even a short time will lead to a loss of revenue and may well result in customers deserting them for a competitor.
Barclays had these concerns when I worked as Construction Manager for the refit and refresh of their estate of Retail branches. They were determined to avoid closing the doors, at all costs!
Vacating an office is just as problematic, as alternative premises have to be found - adding significantly to the project budget and causing major disruption to the company and its employees.
Q: What are the main challenges for the Build Team?
Darren: The challenges are all about disruption. They include dirt, noise, vibration, access, logistics, deliveries of materials, removal of waste and hours of work.
Hours of work can be a particularly tricky one. Leases generally specify that the occupants have the right of ‘quiet enjoyment’. They may specify hours during which disruption is not allowed, perhaps 8am-8pm. However, many councils have constraints for construction work, restricting working hours to 8am-6pm Monday to Friday, or 8am–1pm on a Saturday. When this happens, your lease obligations conflict with local by-laws.
Q: How do you avoid disruption?
Darren: The reality is that you can’t altogether avoid it when working on a construction project. It would be unreasonable to expect the contractors to work without causing any disruption at all. I like to approach the project from a position of tolerance and reason – reminding everyone that they need to be tolerant and reasonable! That is easier said than done though, because people tend to get grumpy when they get disrupted. The answer is to listen to everyone’s perspective and find the middle ground. Mediation becomes the number one skill of the project manager.
Q: Are you working in any live environments at the moment? How will you manage the disruption?
Darren: Yes, I am currently the project manager for the major refurbishment of the European headquarters of a Global Technology Giant at King’s Cross, London. We have just come to the end of the design stage and we are now looking at the logistics of implementing the design without moving 320 employees out of the building. We have agreed on some strategies to make working life bearable for the business while the work is carried out. Firstly, to minimise dirt and vibration, we are carpeting all the walkways in the building. Carpet is good because it traps dirt and dust and deadens vibration. I’m also a big fan of using Tacky Mats to stop dirt from tracking around the building – a neat and inexpensive solution that makes a big difference. Because building risers act as conduits for cabling, pipework and suchlike, they also allow sound to travel all around the building. To reduce noise, we will block all the risers in the building with an acoustic treatment (while adhering to the fire strategy). We have been lucky with this project because the building is on a semi-estate and so council constraints on working hours are less restrictive. They allow the contractors to work during the night so that the business can carry on relatively uninterrupted during the day. Night working increases costs but we feel it is worth it, to reduce the impact on the live business.
Q: What is your top tip?
Darren: Keep communicating! That's the key to every project, large or small. If everyone feels their views have been heard and considered, they are much more likely to be tolerant and reasonable.
Director of Marketing at Iconic Project Management Limited. We specialise in retail, leisure and commercial construction: building or refurbishing your perfect premises.